HBO Max released the first episode of their adaptation of The Last of Us on January 15. The series follows two survivors, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), going through post-apocalyptic America.
The television series is based on the video game saga of the same name, which was released and rose to popularity in 2013. The first game has won various awards such as Game of the Year from the SXSW Gaming Awards in 2014 and Best Narrative from the Game Developers Choice Awards in the same year.
How will this adaptation live up to the legacy that the video game has built over the past decade?
The first episode of the television series opens in 1968 with a broadcast of two health specialists discussing the central pandemic that the series is focused on. The virus, called the Cordyceps brain infection (CBI), infects and turns its victims into zombies.
The opening scene of the episode is not in the video game. This new addition is a broadcast discussing an impending pandemic to an audience who has experienced a real-life one. The specialists’ warnings about the virus add to the impact of the world we are about to enter.
The game starts off with Joel and his daughter, Sarah’s (Nico Parker) introduction rather than a news broadcast. The HBO Max series includes this intro, which takes place in 2003.
After the broadcast, it cuts to Sarah embarking on her daily routine. She makes her father and uncle breakfast, goes to school, gets Joel’s watch fixed, pays a visit to her neighbors, goes home, and then to bed. Throughout her day, little hints are sprinkled in that the virus was coming, such as the hand tremors her classmate was experiencing. At the end of the day, she goes to bed, only to be awoken by distant sounds of explosions.
The flashback sequence in the game starts right when Sarah wakes up, however, the moments after are nearly identical. She is reunited with Joel, who went to bail his brother, Tommy, out of jail and they all try to escape Austin, Texas from the infected humans that began to horde into town. The attempt to escape is a failed one as soldiers hold Joel and Sarah at gunpoint. Sarah is shot by one of the soldiers and she dies in Joel’s arms.
Sarah’s death carries more weight in the television series than in the video games. In both instances, it is heart-wrenching to watch a young child die. With the adaptation, Sarah’s death is more sympathetic because we grew attached to her as a character. Because we watched her go through her daily routine in the show, her dying is like losing a beloved character. Sarah’s demise happens within the first thirty minutes of the debut episode and already sets the tone for the entire series.
We are taken into Boston 2023, a world destroyed by the apocalypse. Joel and his friend, Tessa (Anna Trov) are smugglers. They are assigned to smuggle fourteen-year-old Ellie out of the Quarantine Zone (QZ), where those infected are forced to stay in. The QZ is more lived in than in the games, which is basically abandoned.
Ellie is revealed to be special at the end of the episode. She was infected by CBI, however, she hasn’t turned into a zombie. She was kept at the QZ to monitor any symptoms. Joel and Tess discover this as they’re trying to smuggle her out, and instead of having the conversation split between the escape and her initial confession, the television series has Ellie confess quickly.
The exit, rather than high-stakes and exciting, is underwhelming. The main plot of Ellie is that she is immune to the virus and therefore wanted by the Fireflies, a group of rebels causing destruction in Boston. In the games, this is also a central plot and Ellie’s key to survival.
The series demonstrates adapting a video game into a television series with a new light. It focuses more on the story rather than the action. We see all perspectives rather than just Joel’s which allows for more rounded storytelling.
The creators of the show did a good job making sure the main points of the game weren’t changed, such as Sarah’s death being central to Joel’s character development and Ellie’s immunity.
The Last of Us airs on HBO Sunday nights at 9:oo pm EST and is available on HBO Max at the same time.